The Race Club Video: Backstroke Arm Pull – Bent vs Straight-Arm

by SwimSwam Partner Content 2

February 10th, 2022 Training, Video

Courtesy of Gary Hall Sr., 10-time World Record Holder, 3-time Olympian, 1976 Olympic Games US Flagbearer and The Race Club co-founder.

In this video we go back to the “lab” to test backstroke arm pull strength. Does using a bent arm provide a stronger pulling motion than a straight arm? Although we at The Race Club feel confident a bent arm pulling motion is stronger, we asked Israeli backstroker David Gamburg to help us prove it.

After testing both David’s straight and bent backstroke arm pull, we can confirm our original theory. The bent arm showed stronger results in all three of our measures when compared to the straight arm pull. David’s average velocity increased by three percent and his stroke rate by eight percent. Not only that, but his average peak acceleration increased by an impressive 43 percent!

For us, it makes perfect sense. Bending the elbow early allows swimmers to push water backwards for a long period of time. Using a straight arm pulling motion cuts down the amount of time water is being pushed back dramatically. Using this type of backstroke arm pull isn’t easy. It requires great shoulder rotation and most importantly, lots of practice.

You can find more videos on backstroke technique and drills below:

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Because Life is Worth Swimming, our mission is to promote swimming through sport, lifelong enjoyment, and good health benefits. Our objective is for each member of and each participant in The Race Club to improve his or her swimming performances, health, and self-esteem through our educational programs, services and creativity. We strive to help each member of The Race Club overcome challenges and reach his or her individual life goals.

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11 months ago

I love seeing how biomechanics effects power production with those velocity graphs! I think that a simulation like this requires a much larger data set made up of a lot of different swimmers to get a more complete understanding of the impact of arm bend. I absolutely agree that arm bend loads more muscle groups and can increase SR and is probably better for AC joint and shoulder muscular health as well. But I’d like to know how height and build effect a swimmer’s optimal arm angle and how then to structure a meaningful dryland routine around it.

I would also love to see how those Tennessee backstroke breakouts – first stroke is pulled over the face and body… Read more »

retired coach
11 months ago

My observations over the years (not just from my team) led me to the conclusion that successful straight arm backstrokers had extremely powerful flutter kicks. (Eg. Natalie Couglin early 2000 underwater footage). Key takeaway from Coach Hall article is the importance of the athlete/coach willingness to experiment with alternative stroke techniques to find what works best for a specific swimmer. In my coaching days, some of my backstrokers were better with straighter arm pulls and others with varying degrees of a bent arm.